This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
It could be argued - indeed, it has been argued - that FELIX MENDELSSOHN was the greatest child-prodigy, musical composer in history, just pipping Franz Schubert.
Ah, I hear you say, what about Wolfie? This argument was made in Music magazine a year or two ago and the criterion they selected was how many of the great works of these composers were written before each turned 18.
In Mozart’s case, none. That’s not to denigrate him; he wrote his great works later on.
The great works that Felix composed before he was able to vote (well, he probably wasn’t, but you know what I mean) are the “Octet” (at age 16), Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (17) and Piano Quartet in F minor (14). He finished off the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” somewhat later.
To demonstrate what the magazine article was talking about here is the third movement of the “Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20.”
Felix was born into a notable family; he was the grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and son of a prominent banker. His musical talents were recognised early but his parents were rather cautious about exploiting them. A bit different from Mozart's dad.
However, they caved in when it became obvious that that was the path Felix was set upon. His sister, Fanny, was a fine pianist and composer as well and it was thought that she might be the musical one in the family but back then, it wasn’t considered proper for a woman to earn a living from music, so we'll never know.
Again, going with the young Felix, here is part of the piano quartet he composed at age 14, the second movement from the “Piano Quartet No. 2 in F Minor.”
I’ve decided not to go with the third of his youthful compositions, the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” stuff - that’s the one with the wedding march and who wants to hear that? What I want to hear instead is the wonderful Cecilia Bartoli (any excuse).
Here she performs Ah Ritorna from Infelice! She is accompanied on the violin by Maxim Vengerov.
The next couple of tracks came to me quite out of the blue. They are not ones I was previously familiar with but I certainly am now.
For the first of these, I was trawling through all my Mendelssohn works and this piece brought me up short. It was so beautiful I had to include it. No other reason than that but what more is needed? It is the second movement of the “Clarinet Sonata in E flat.”
Next - well technically I included it before the previous track - I was lying in bed the other morning and they played this on the radio. “I have to include that,” I said to myself as it was quite lovely.
I hoped I’d remember what it was by the time I got up and whether I had it in my collection. Fortunately I did and here it is: the final movement of the “Violin Concerto in D minor.”
Some of Felix’s most famous works are called songs without words. These are essentially solo piano works.
He also wrote some songs with words. This particular one is called Ruhetal and it’s from a group of works called “Three Songs From Im Grunen.” The BBC Singers are doing the warbling.
Now for something called the “Konzertstück No.1, Op.113.” For those not conversant in German, of which I’m one, this apparently means it’s a concert piece.
This was written for clarinet, basset horn and piano. A basset horn isn’t a lugubrious horn with long floppy ears; it’s a member of the clarinet family. He must have liked this group of instruments as he wrote another Konzertstück for the same ones.
I’ll finish with the second movement of the “Cello Sonata in D, Op 58.” For a cello sonata, there does seem to be an excess of piano but that was Felix’s instrument so I’m not too surprised.
Felix died aged 38 after suffering several strokes in a short period, the first of which was soon after his sister Fanny had died in a similar manner. Mozart was 35 when he succumbed and poor Schubert just 31.
What an extraordinary amount of wonderful music they produced in such short lives.